Multiple Pathways prepares students for college and careers

New report focuses on high school reform done right

Contact: Teri Battaglieri – (517) 203-2940;
Marisa Saunders – (310) 866-2262;
Christopher A. Chrisman – (303) 295-8013;

EAST LANSING, Mich., (December 1, 2008)—The Multiple Pathways approach to high school reform is being advanced by states and supported by philanthropy groups around the country. The approach was developed as a way to prepare students for both college and careers while rejecting a tracking system that provides academic preparation for some students but only vocational preparation to others. A new report highlights the potential of this approach but warns that if poorly designed and implemented, past problems will not be addressed.

Released today by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice, this legislation policy brief was co-authored by Dr. Marisa Saunders, a research associate at UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access, and Christopher Chrisman, an associate with the Denver office of the law firm Holland & Hart.

The first half of the report explains the key elements of effective Multiple Pathways reform. The second half translates these elements into statutory language, concretely providing the details necessary to move forward with this important reform.

The Multiple Pathways approach to high school reform connects rigorous academic preparation and technical knowledge to opportunities to learn from adult, real-world settings such as the workplace. The reform rests on three research-based propositions:

  • Learning both academic and technical knowledge is enhanced when the two are combined and contextualized in real-world situations;
  • Connecting academics to such real-world contexts promotes student interest and engagement; and
  • Students provided with both academic and career education are more likely to be able to later choose from the full range of postsecondary options.

Saunders points out that Multiple Pathways is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Students and families choose from a number of “pathways” which offer both the academic and real-world experiences that students need. Though each “pathway” differs in terms of curricular content, how courses are organized and how much time students spend on and off campus, Saunders says that what is most important is that “every pathway leads to the same destination: preparation to succeed in both college and career, not one or the other.”

However, Saunders cautions, “If poorly designed or enacted, the reform will only maintain the same old vocational education programs or alternative schools, continuing discredited practices of ability tracking rather than transforming the comprehensive high school.”

A well-designed Multiple Pathways reform must include the following four essential components within each and every pathway that is offered to students:

  • A college-preparatory academic core that satisfies the course requirements for entry into a state’s flagship public university, using project-based learning and other engaging classroom strategies;
  • A professional/technical core well-grounded in academic and real-world standards;
  • Field-based learning and realistic workplace simulations that deepen students’ understanding of academic and technical knowledge through application in real-world situations; and
  • Additional support services to meet the particular needs of students and communities, which can include supplemental instruction, counseling, and transportation.

According to Saunders, effective Multiple Pathways reform as proposed in the brief can, “meet the educational needs of a diverse student population by bridging the divide between education for work and education for college.”

Find Saunders’ and Chrisman’s report, Multiple Pathways: 21st Century High Schools that Prepare All Students for College, Career and Civic Participation on the web at:


The mission of the Great Lakes Center is to improve public education for all students in the Great Lakes region through the support and dissemination of high quality, academically sound research on education policy and practices.

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